When it comes to productivity software, Microsoft Office is by far the most popular choice. Among its components, Word (for word processing) and Excel (for spreadsheets) are the de facto tools in the corporate world. However, in recent years, other office suites have emerged or re-emerged to challenge its dominance. Chief among these competitors is OpenOffice, which is a product of Sun Microsystems, a multibillion-dollar company that makes computers, software, and Java.
The Price Tag
The element that most clearly separates the two suites is that OpenOffice is free. You can download it directly from Sun, order it on a CD or obtain it from a peer-to-peer network such as BitTorrent. If you have a Linux operating system such as Ubuntu or Fedora, you can download it using their software package managers (which will also keep OpenOffice up to date for you). Meanwhile, MS Office must be purchased on a CD or DVD, although you can buy it pre-installed when you buy a computer from a company like Dell or HP.
OpenOffice has a set group of components, while MS Office has several versions, with the least expensive version including a word processor, spreadsheet software, presentation software and note-taking software. OpenOffice includes Writer (the word processor), Calc (for spreadsheets), Impress (for presentations), Draw (for creating images) and Base (for managing databases). OpenOffice does not include an email client or desktop publishing software. Users of OpenOffice are usually directed to Evolution Mail or Mozilla Thunderbird for their email client needs.
OpenOffice can read and create Word-compatible documents, but Calc can have trouble properly displaying Excel spreadsheets. It can, however, save spreadsheets in Excel's .xls file format. Impress can also save presentations in PowerPoint's file formats as well, but can have problems properly displaying presentations created in PowerPoint.
OpenOffice's compatibility with MS Office file formats is an ongoing process. MS Office's formats tends to require a "trial-and-error" method for OpenOffice's developers, since Microsoft does not publish how its proprietary formats work. Both suites support saving an email file as a PDF, but MS Office users must download and install an add-in to access this functionality. MS Office 2010 has this feature built in.
Another advantage to OpenOffice is that its file formats are not a popular avenue for viruses. Only a handful have been released that exploit OpenOffice's XML-based files. MS Office's .doc and .xls files are also a popular target for deletion or corruption when a virus infects a computer; the virus searches for these file types on your computer and attacks them. OpenOffice isn't necessarily "safer," but it tends to fly below the radar.
Both suites have comprehensive online support sites, including user discussion forums, documentation and tutorials. OpenOffice also has a mailing list. Microsoft's support section is arguably easier to navigate, and it includes podcasts, training courses and certifications. Microsoft also has phone support seven days a week (limited hours on weekends).
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